Kroos aims missile at detractors but big issues remain
Sweden's players and staff were still struggling to digest what had just happened when Toni Kroos, fresh from dragging Germany from the pits of despair to a state of uncontrolled delirium, took great pleasure in firing a shot across the bows of the Nationalmannschaft's detractors.
Not content with letting his right foot do the talking, the Germany midfielder struck a tone every bit as defiant as the free-kick he had just bludgeoned into the top corner with 18 seconds left of a breathless game in Sochi.
"It makes me feel like it's much more fun for people to write badly about us," Kroos said of Saturday's last-gasp 2-1 win at the Fisht Stadium. "We get no help from all those who write, analyse, accuse us of bad body language. But nobody will write us a title. It all has to come from us. With that sort of fighting spirit, we deserve to reach the final."
Kroos is normally as composed off the field as he is on it, but the severe criticism that had followed the world champions' opening 1-0 defeat to Mexico had clearly touched a nerve and here was the Real Madrid midfielder unloading all his pent-up frustration after sparing his team another, more brutal inquisition.
He was not the only German to do so on the night. Fifa opened an investigation yesterday into the ugly scenes on the touchline in the aftermath of Kroos's goal, when two Germany officials, Georg Behlau and Ulrich Voigt, sparked a furious reaction from the Swedish bench after running towards their counterparts and celebrating provocatively.
Janne Andersson, the Sweden coach, accused Germany of "rubbing it in our faces", for which the German FA apologised yesterday.
The immediate aftermath of such a euphoric victory is seldom the time for measured analysis or restraint and it took Mats Hummels, the defender who missed the game with a neck injury, to offer the most considered appraisal of Germany's current, rather bedraggled state.
"We were better than last time against Mexico but not as good as we have to be, of course," Hummels said. "It wasn't perfect, but from an emotional side that late goal was a very good thing for us. It gives us a feeling we can improve, we can get better.
"Could it be the moment we look back on when things changed and helped us win the World Cup? Something like this can have a big impact. But we cannot get carried away. The reality is if we go and make the same mistakes against South Korea that we have against Mexico and Sweden, this will mean nothing."
The game may have showcased German resolve but it also reaffirmed the alarming defensive cracks that Mexico had exposed in Moscow but which went undetected and unexposed during a serene qualifying campaign, when they conceded just four goals in 10 games, all of which they won.
South Korea will watch how the Mexicans and Swedes exploited Germany so effectively on the transition and realise Joachim Low's side can be unpicked in Kazan on Wednesday.
Hummels will return for that match but it may actually prove a blessing for Germany that Jerome Boateng is suspended after his 82nd minute red card for two bookable offences in Sochi. No one suffered against Sweden quite like the Bayern Munich centre-half, for whom a succession of injuries have undermined his mobility.
Michael O'Neill, the Northern Ireland manager who faced Germany twice in qualifying, has talked about how Boateng and Hummels at their best were entirely comfortable playing two-versus-two at the back. But Boateng, especially, needs more cover now, both from central midfield and his full-backs which, in Loew's system, he is unlikely to get.
Germany were operating with almost a 2-2-6 system against Sweden and if Loew is to persist with it, Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger or the youngster Niklas Sule, who has deputised impressively for Boateng at Bayern, appear more logical partners for Hummels.
Boateng lost the ball 13 times on Saturday, more than any Swedish outfield player, recovered it just twice and won just 40 per cent of his 10 duels with Sweden's aggressive forwards. By contrast, Rudiger lost the ball on just four occasions and made seven recoveries as well as winning almost 70 per cent of his nine duels.
It has not helped that Boateng's future at Bayern is the subject of intense debate in Germany, but the Bavarian club's £44 million valuation looks incredibly optimistic on the back of his two showings in Russia.
Whether it comes at this tournament or not, a changing of the guard at the back for Germany seems inevitable. "Jerome doesn't offer the security he used to," Lothar Matthaus, who won the World Cup with Germany in 1990, said in his column for Bild yesterday.
As is the case with some other players, Loew has to think carefully about whether he should continue with him. (© Daily Telegraph)